Greek myths have had a wide influence on the culture, art and literature of Western civilization. Although they may not be true, the events in Greek mythology may have taken place in real locations.
By Cliff Blaylock
Why is it that the myths of Ancient Greece have not only been able to survive, but continue to have a profound and lasting effect on audiences and the world to this day? The Olympic Games, still the greatest sporting event on the planet, were supposedly originally held by Hercules in honor of Zeus, while mythological beasts such as the Cyclops, hippogriffs and krakens still rampage in modern blockbusters as they did in the minds of Greek storytellers.
When it comes to Greek mythology it seems that we are just as fascinated as ever.
Not all myths are thought to be complete fabrications, however; some are considered to have genuine roots relating to historic events that have become warped and adapted over time.
Constantly, archaeologists are finding evidence of such places, and just as you can visit the ancient Colosseum of Rome and the ruins of Sparta, so you can set foot on the places where some of the most well known tales of mythology are thought to have been born.
Taking the path of the gods to find locations of Greek myths
We start our journey on the island of Crete, at the base of her tallest mountain, Mount Ida. This unassuming formation, hidden deep in the island’s mountainous center, is the perfect spot for a bit of sightseeing, hiking — or concealing the future king of the gods from his overzealous and paranoid father.
Cronus, one of the original Titans in Greek mythology, attempted to destroy all his offspring in order to prevent a prophecy that predicted his downfall at the hands of one his children. One after the other, he devoured his children, except when it came to Zeus, whom Rhea, Zeus’ mother, managed to hide in a cave far from the reach of Cronus.
The Greeks believed that this cave can be found beneath Mount Ida of Crete, and for many years it was a site of worship and pilgrimage. Now the cave is open to public viewing, and after a 20 minute hillside climb and around 200 steps into the cave itself, you’ll be wandering through the halls where Zeus, arguably the most famous being in all of Greek mythology, is said to have spent the first years of his life.
Monster or mammal?
Crete is not only Zeus’ childhood home, however; it is also known for being the birthplace of a rather more ferocious mythological creature: the monstrous one-eyed Cyclops. Examples of skulls have been found all over the island, as well as many other places in Greece, which come from a creature with one big eye socket, huge sets of teeth and sometimes long and powerful looking tusks.
At the time, the Greeks would have had no knowledge of a creature that looked anything like the skull they just happened upon, and so the Cyclops was born. We know today though, that these skulls actually belonged to Deinotherium giganteum, a prehistoric relative of the elephant, and that the single, massive, eyehole wasn’t actually for an eye at all, but instead was made for its massive trunk.
Fearsome as elephants can sometimes be, I think we can all agree that a Cyclops makes for a much more exciting story behind the mysterious fossils.
From riches to rags
Although not technically in modern day Greece, the River Pactolus in western Turkey is still an important part of their mythological heritage.
It was here along the riverbanks that King Midas, the man with the golden touch, was said to have rid himself of his powers after struggling to eat and drink by casting them into the water. Although a moral story of greed and desire, the myth is likely to have told as an explanation for why the river was so rich in gold dust during this period.
Flowing along the riverbed in the sands, the gold was used to build some of the richest civilizations in the country’s history. We now know it was being brought down into the waters from the nearby mountains; however, it was on the banks of this river that the myth turned from story to legend.
Taking archaeology to new depths
Besides the modern-day concept of hell from Christianity, there is no more famous afterlife experience in western culture than the legendary underworld of Greek mythology.
Only a handful of heroes have ever willingly taken a trip into this dark and disturbing world, but this is exactly what archaeologists think they have been doing for the past 60 years. In the 1950s, a man walking his dog along a beach in Diros Bay on the Southern Greek coast came across a tiny entrance to a vast cave system that had lain undiscovered for millennia.
Inside, evidence of civilization was found dating back 9,000 years and archaeologists believed they found one of the finest examples of a prehistoric burial site in the world. However, it’s the appearance and atmosphere of the cave that really seems to have inspired the myth.
Dark red cave walls, riddled with sharp rocks and stalactites complete with a black lake cutting between two sides of the cave. Sound familiar? Add to that the fact that the cave was lost to history thousands of years ago when its entrance collapsed, trapping hundreds of screaming souls inside, and you really do have the perfect location for hell on earth.
Getting lost In the locations of Greek myths
After taking our detour to the European mainland, we return to the beautiful island of Crete for another journey into Greek mythology.
It may come as a surprise that so much happened on this island far off the Greek coast, but during the era of the Ancient Greeks, it was a major hub of activity and life, second only to the city of Athens. Here, on the island’s southern shores, you’ll find the archaeological site of Kommos, nestled on the island’s picturesque and rustic hillsides.
As you venture through the ruins of the ancient city streets, you’ll soon find yourself in a veritable maze of tight paths, corridors and walkways. A labyrinth within the city. Similarly, archaeologists have found another series of tunnels and corridors forming a labyrinth like structure nearby, this time underground in a cave outside the site of Gortyn.
It is thought that King Minos, famous for feeding his enemies to the vicious Minotaur, lived and ruled from this area. Archaeologist even believe they have found his throne room in the ruins of Kommos. It is possible then, that the myth of the Minotaur came from these very labyrinths. Or perhaps the tales are true, and the beast still stalks their hallways. We think it’s better to visit the island of Crete, and find out for yourself.